“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” So much wisdom from good ole Dr. Seuss. As homeschoolers, reading is the most foundational and important skill that we will teach our children; however, we must think beyond simply teaching our students how to read and also understand all the parts that comprise a solid language arts curriculum.
“Language arts” is a broad term that refers to all the components of both written and spoken language, used to express thoughts and ideas. In addition to reading and comprehension, a complete language arts curriculum should also include grammar, spelling, handwriting, vocabulary, composition, and public speaking.
In the early years, ages 5 through 8, reading, spelling, handwriting, and basic grammar and vocabulary skills should be taught. Reading comprehension can be learned through simple narration exercises and having your child tell you back a brief summary or explanation of what they read or what was read to them.
As children mature developmentally, usually around grade 4, they will be able to begin learning the more complex language skills of composition, sentence diagramming for a more in depth understanding of grammar, and more advanced spelling and vocabulary words. In the upper elementary years, students are usually able to begin writing creatively using their original thoughts, but this skill can take up through the middle school years and beyond to achieve. The upper elementary years, grades 4, 5, and 6 are when students typically transition from learning to read to now reading to learn.
Grades 7 and 8 are transitional years. By this time students should be proficient in grammar and spelling and be able to begin focusing on acquiring the writing skills that will be required for high school; however, it is not uncommon for some students to struggle with these skills through middle school. In this case, additional spelling and grammar exercises can be practiced as needed. In these years it’s best to take time to sure up any gaps in basic language arts skills and to introduce more advanced writing assignments such as book reports, summary writing, the outline, and the five paragraph essay.
By grade 9, no further formal grammar and spelling instruction needs to be included necessarily, provided the student has an adequate command of these skills. They will continue to be practiced and improved upon through composition assignments. In the high school years, the language arts focus should turn to being able to understand, analyze, and comprehend more complex language and literature, as well as acquiring the writing skills that will be needed in college and real life. There are many types of composition that can be taught, but the high school student should at the very least learn how to write the following: outlines, research papers, literary analysis papers, different type of essays, beginning with a basic 5 paragraph essay, but also including the compare and contrast, analytical, persuasive, informative, descriptive, and test-taking essays. Additional types of writing that can be covered are speeches, short stories, fiction, creative writing, biographical writing, newspaper articles, poetry, and plays.
Vocabulary is a subject that can be included all the way through 12th grade and even beyond! As an adult, I’m still learning new words. There is curriculum available to teach vocabulary, but it can just as well be learned in context through exposing your student to a wide variety of literature throughout their entire education.
Public speaking can also be taught throughout all grades. In the early years, to practice oral presentation skills and speaking in complete sentences, young students can do show and tell or recite Scripture verses or poetry. In the upper elementary years students can orally share book reports or other writing assignments with the family. Presenting speeches and essays can help middle and high school students gain important public speaking and communication skills that will be needed in life.
There are different ways to go about teaching language arts in your homeschool. Here is a summary of the options:
This integrated approach seeks to cover all the components of language mastery in the context of quality literature. Through reading interesting books and stories, students are able to learn the elements of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing mechanics, research, and other skills. Some literature based language arts curriculum also includes instruction in phonics to teach reading.
Using this method, younger students learn by doing copywork, narration, and dictation exercises. Copywork is writing down a selected passage exactly as it appears in the text. Several skills are learned and reinforced through copywork, namely punctuation, spelling, handwriting, and the grammar and rhythm of good writing. It also helps with reading comprehension as students spend time slowly thinking and interacting with the material. Narration is the art of summarizing and telling back the most important points from a reading passage. The ability to “tell back” helps improve speaking and thinking skills. Dictation is when a parent reads a passage while the student practices listening skills and writes down what is said, taking care to include proper punctuation and spelling. Additional language arts activities using this method also include: learning vocabulary in context, answering discussion questions, memorizing poetry, and practicing editing exercises.
In the middle and high school years increasingly challenging literature is used to teach all components of language arts and the skills of analyzation, critical thinking, research, and various types of writing.
Pros: Covers a wide range of language arts skills, exposes students to great literature, language integration studied in context, minimal resources required, great way to teach reading comprehension, engaging for students, inexpensive.
Cons: May need to include separate phonics curriculum to teach reading. Not enough methodical repetition and review of concepts, might not be challenging enough in higher grades, can feel disorganized.
Curriculum/resources: Cottage Press Language Lessons for Children, English for the Thoughtful Child, Language Lessons for a Living Education, Language Lessons for Today, Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Life of Fred Language Arts Series, Total Language Plus, Well Trained Mind Press.
All in One Curriculum
An all in one curriculum combines the teaching of all language arts components together using textbooks and consumable workbooks, or worktexts. Students complete various exercises and assignments for acquisition and reinforcement of skills. Some families prefer this method because it is straightforward, comprehensive, and usually well organized, minimizing potential learning gaps. This all in one language arts approach may require the purchase of an additional teacher’s edition in order to help parents teach content. Most all in one language arts curriculum cover all components; although, some will include different texts or workbooks for each concept.
Pros: Easy to implement, assess progress, and grade, comprehensive, organized, less likely to have gaps in learning.
Cons: Too much review, drill, and testing, can be uninteresting or overwhelming, expensive.
Curriculum/resources: Abeka, ACE, Alpha Omega Publishers, BJU Press, Christian Liberty Press, Landmark’s Freedom Baptist English, Lifepac Language Arts, Spectrum Language Arts, Switched-On Schoolhouse.
Each Component Separately
All the parts of language arts can also be covered using separate curriculum for each component. For instance, you would use one curriculum to teach spelling, a different one to teach vocabulary, and so on. This can work well for those who wish to custom make an individual education plan for each of their students. All students learn differently and one size does not fit all, especially when it comes to learning spelling and writing.
Pros: Offers in-depth coverage of each language arts component, gives homeschooling parents the option of customizing a complete curriculum, can help parents focus on individual parts where a student might struggle.
Cons: May be challenging to keep up with too much curriculum to schedule, teach, and grade, could get expensive.
Curriculum/resources: All About Learning Press, Institute for Excellence, Sequential Spelling, Wordly Wise and many more. Refer to our Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum page.
Teaching our children to read well is primary in establishing a strong educational foundation, but helping them secure a command of the nuance of the English language is also extremely important. Language is so incredibly vital for communication and being able to communicate both orally and in writing will enable our children to read, study, and comprehend God’s Word, establish meaningful relationships with others, express and share their faith, work a job or have a successful career, etc. There is almost no facet of their lives that won’t require some form of communication. Language, both spoken and written, is the vehicle they will use to express truth, to influence change, and to pass on important customs and traditions to your grandchildren. Mastery of language will open up the world to them, helping them gain knowledge and make significant contributions to our world. Give your children a solid language arts education and there’s no telling all the places they may go!